Colonial Families Research Guide

Starting your search for the colonial elements of your family tree can be a daunting task! Britain’s imperial history has left a strong legacy on the social fabric of our society, and whether your ancestors were emigrants or immigrants, there is often a colonial connection worth exploring. But where do you start?

The FCRN Research Guide aims to provide information about digital resources available to help you leaf out the colonial branch of your family tree, and is divided into thematic and geographical sections. Check out the General Resources below to get started, and then dive into the more specific pages (as we build them!) for more precise information and advice. Happy hunting!

Map and Tree

General Resources



  • Elizabeth Buettner, Empire Families (2004)
  • Barbara Cain, Bombay to Bloomsbury (2005)
  • Emma Rothschild, Inner Life of Empires (2011)
  • Philippa Levine’s The British Empire: sunrise to sunset (2007) is a good (and short!) introduction to the history of the British Empire. All historians of empire have their particular favourite introduction to empire, and there are many on offer, but Levine is always my pick for a good blend of accessibility and academic content.


  • In 2007 Channel Four made a fascinating series about ‘the dismantlement of the British Empire and the effects of its legacy through the family stories of various British celebrities, each a ‘child of the Empire’.’ I haven’t been able to track down a copy of this series (Empire’s Children), but C4 still maintain some kind of website about it:
  • In 2012 Jeremy Paxman wrote and presented a series on Empire for the BBC. Unlike C4, the BBC’s website is very helpful, with numerous links to their educational guides on empire and imperialism: . You can also buy the series online.
  • Meanwhile, in terms of colonial family history, numerous episodes of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are have colonial connections
  • BBC 2 had a Mixed Race season last year, the flagship of which was a three-part series Mixed Britannia. Information about the series can be found here:


NEW! Our guide to Colonial Emigration from the UK can now be found here: It includes general information and specific destination guides.

Colonial immigration guides to follow!

3 Responses to Colonial Families Research Guide

  1. Pingback: Writing Public Colonial Family History | Family & Colonialism Research Network

  2. Irene Baldock says:

    I’m really interested in this as my grandparents emigrated separately to Mombasa British East Africa. My grandfather in 1910 and my grandmother in 1913 as a single woman. I am curious to find out why they emigrated to Kenya, subsequently met, married and had a family there. Your articles in Family Tree have made fascinating reading as to what incentives had been offered to those who wanted a new life.

  3. Many thanks Irene! I’m so glad you have enjoyed them.
    We don’t have a section on emigration to Kenya yet, but hopefully we will in the future.
    We would love to hear more details of your family’s story if you would be interested in sharing it with us?

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